In 2017, the United Nations released a report noting that nearly 800,000 children are malnourished in Kenya, many of them affected by drought. As the rain beats down on roofs, washing way the dusty earth, I want to believe that the famine is over, is it? How many children go to school on an empty stomach because their parents cannot afford a single meal, leave alone the recommended three? I would like to clap along, because I’m happy… never mind that I’m totally crazy about this song by Pharell Williams. However, what about the little boy and girl, determined to reach for the stars but they can’t… there is no energy to jump that high.
This is what drew me to 26 year old Francis Otieno Amonde. He runs a feeding program through his Community Based Organisation, Hope Alive Campaign. Together with an amazing team, they give a cup of porridge to children in disadvantaged areas including slums and community and public schools. Currently, they support five schools, two in Homa Bay County and three in Nairobi County. On asking him how he funds the work, he says that he had to start with his own money but as his work grew, friends started chipping in for the good cause.
I recognise the vitality of young people coming together to solve many social challenges. In 2011, while still in campus, Francis Otieno Amonde visited a school in Oyugis where his late mother used to teach. There he met a devastating spectacle of sickly and sleepy children. The reality that many of the children faced was being orphaned at a tender age and being left in the care of grandparents who lacked active income generating avenues…the result, starving children.
To kick-start their work, Francis Otieno Amonde and his team identified a few needy schools and selected the five. An estimate of 1500 children are benefiting from the program. The resources to run the feeding program come through donations in the form of money or Familia porridge flour and sugar. He is keen on accountability and always shares the purchase receipts and updates with his donors who he reaches out to through social media and one on one interactions.
Aside from the feeding program, Hope Alive Campaign donates sanitary towels to girls in school. The towels are ordered from the Zana Africa Foundation and benefit 143 girls. They are also keen on providing mentorship for boys because they need to feel valued, understood and empowered. It is commendable that Hope Alive has been able to sponsor students to school by providing school fees and shopping. There are so many challenges that African children face but getting an education is one of the most valuable gifts they can receive.
Francis Otieno Amonde emphasizes that while working with children, it is important to recognise their fragility and be in a position to identify with them despite their backgrounds. A volunteer must appreciate a child who comes to them even if they are dirty or look malnourished. It is the love that the children need the most. A picture is worth a thousand words. Francis Otieno Amonde says that he always documents their work through photography which enables him to keep sharing their story. He also reflects on the importance of working patiently with volunteers and guiding them on the needs of the program.
Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires active participation from ordinary citizens which is why Francis Otieno Amonde has focussed his work on three main goals that is goal two which involves fighting hunger and goes hand in hand with goal four of allowing children to access quality education. Gender equality is also at the top of his agenda by ensuring that young girls do not miss school due to their menstrual periods while boys their age are in school.
He has embraced great milestones because of his resilience. Aside from being invited to speak to young people in various forums and work as a facilitator, Hope Alive Campaign is proud to have some of the following achievements:
a)Easter celebrations at Nyatwere Primary School in Oyugis, Homa Bay County, Kenya, with over 100 preschool children in 2012.
b)Launch of #CupOfUji school feeding program for preschool pupils at Nyatwere Primary School in Oyugis, Homa Bay County, Kenya, on 18th June, 2012.
c)Hope Alive Kids Fun Day at Nyatwere Primary School, Oyugis, Homa Bay County on 15th December, 2013, on 12th December 2015 (Chief Guest – Miss Tourism Homa Bay County, Dena Achieng) and on 12th December 2017 (Chief Guest – Miss Face of Kenya USA, Mercy Koech)
d)Goat eating party with over 100 preschool children at Nyatwere Primary School on 22nd August, 2014.
e)KCPE results improved as a result of #CupOfUji school feeding program at Nyatwere Primary School in Oyugis, Homa Bay County, from a mean score of 244 in 2013 to 274 in 2014.
f)Donation of 50 Junior Plastic Chairs for preschool children at Nyatwere Primary School in Oyugis, Homa Bay County, from Julie Gichuru, through her company, Arimus Media Limited on 28th June, 2014.
g)Girls Dignity Program officially began on 11th October, 2014, with 30 girls, through a donation of sanitary pads from Gina Din Corporate Communications.
h)5th February, 2016, cup of Uji school feeding program spread to Julie Hope Children’s Rescue Center in Kibera slums, Nairobi, Kenya.
i)2017 marked the start of #CupOfUji school feeding program at Kasimba Primary School in Oyugis, Homa Bay County, Balozi School in Kawangware slums, Nairobi and Fikisha Street Boys Centre in Kawangware slums, Nairobi.
j)February 2018 marked the start of #CupOfUji school feeding program at Beyond the Vision School in Tassia slum, Embakasi, Nairobi County.
‘I used to work in Nyali Integrated School where I was teaching the British and Kenyan curriculum. One day, I finished teaching English in a form one class and immediately walked into a year 9 classroom with the same text book…oh the confusion. Eventually, I stopped teaching and decided to focus on my charity work. I would like young people to stay focussed despite the roadblocks they may face. What you do does not always have to be about money,’ says Francis Otieno Amonde. This revelation not only amused me but also echoed Albert Einstein who postulated the story by stating “Hail to the man who went through life always helping others, knowing no fear, and to whom aggressiveness and resentment are alien. Such is the stuff of which the great moral leaders are made.”